CPS Energy earns accolades as a recycling leader; efforts benefit environment and reduce costs

Many businesses today have instituted recycling programs, asking employees to separate paper, bottles and cans from the trash.

CPS Energy recycles its paper, bottles and cans — and just about everything else, including cardboard, electronics, wood, tree trimming debris, used oil, concrete and asphalt, steel, oil, batteries — even the waste left over from burning coal.

Last year, CPS Energy recycled 557,000 tons of materials — 92 percent of its waste. Of that, 477,000 tons was coal combustion material — bottom ash, fly ash and scrubber sludge. All together, the utility’s recycling efforts reduced carbon emissions by 238,000 tons, or the equivalent of removing 43,000 cars off the road.

Recycling is not just good for the environment; it’s also a boon to CPS Energy’s bottom line. Landfill disposal costs for non-hazardous waste have tripled in the last five years, and will continue to rise. The cost to dispose of that material as solid waste would have cost CPS Energy $13 million; the total revenue generated from recycling was $5.6 million.

The utility’s recycling success will be recognized on Oct. 23 with the Outstanding Construction and Demolition Program Environmental Leadership Award by the State of Texas Alliance for Recycling, at the 15th annual Texas Recycling & Sustainability Summit.

CPS Energy kept more than 46.2 million pounds of construction debris out of landfills in 2011, recycling much of it into base material and “cold asphalt,” while at the same time saving nearly $500,000 in landfill disposal fees.

Some of that came from the completed demolition of the decommissioned, 100-year-old Mission Road natural gas plant. Begun in 2009, the demolition generated 15.6 million pounds of concrete and 680,000 pounds of structural steel. All the steel was sent offsite for recycling; the concrete was re-used right there, as fill material in abandoned sumps and excavated areas created by the removal of underground pipes.

An ultimate example of recycling, the turn-of-the-century red brick former power plant, which sits on 5 acres fronting the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, is nowready for redevelopment.

The utility’s emphasis on recycling is not new. When the City of San Antonio bought what was then known as the Public Service Company in 1942, the utility already had a “salvage” department that picked out scrap metal, wood poles and other materials that could be reused, said Kim Stoker, director for CPS Energy’s environmental planning, compliance and sustainability department.

“Now it’s called ‘reverse logistics,'” said Stoker. “We’ve come a long way.”

In 1979, CPS Energy began contracting to have its coal combustion byproducts recycled. Those include fly ash, also known as coal ash, plus bottom ash and scrubber sludge. Pollution control equipment mandated by the federal government captures the waste, which is often stored by energy companies in on-site landfills.

CPS Energy contracts with a company that buys the ash and uses it to make concrete products, drywall, road base, bricks, flowable fill and agricultural soil additives, keeping it out of landfills. The contract generated $2 million in revenue for the utility in 2011.

“We’re very fortunate that we’re able to recycle nearly all our coal ash,” said Stoker.

Nationwide, only about 40 percent of fly ash is recycled.

Efforts sped up in the 1990s to expand recycling company-wide, Stoker said. “We really started focusing on what could be diverted from the landfill. It became a mission, a passion for us.”

CPS Energy started recycling all its tree-trimming waste in 1996, and last year partnered with Gardenville to create high-quality mulch. Cardboard recycling began in 2000, concrete, asphalt and masonry in 2003, wood pallets and cable reels in 2005.

Just as it is recycling, CPS Energy also has a policy in place to encourage employees to consider purchasing products made from recycled materials. Today, the utility buys recycled steel, paper and office products, antifreeze, parts cleaning solvent, laser printer cartridges and toilet paper.

Reaching a 92 percent recycling rate doesn’t just happen, said Stoker.

“You have to have champions at every location across the company,” she said, “and we have that.”

Tracy Idell Hamilton

Tracy Idell Hamilton was part of the Corporate Communications team at CPS Energy.

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